A leading Philadelphia-area businessman says he is shocked by the two- to four-year prison sentence meted out Monday to rapper Meek Mill for a probation violation.
"For the first time in my life, I've lost complete faith in the justice system," said Michael Rubin, an internet entrepreneur and billionaire (he's on the Forbes 400 list), who testified on Meek Mill's behalf.
Rubin said he sat for five hours in Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley's courtroom as prosecutors and probation officers recommended against sentencing the rapper to hard time for a St. Louis fistfight and a New York reckless driving citation, and added his personal recommendation — only to watch in shock as his friend was led away by sheriff's deputies.
"We come from different worlds," Rubin said in an interview Tuesday. "The last few years, we have spent a lot of time together. I'm a big believer in him."
Meek Mill (born Robert Williams) grew up in North Philadelphia. His father was killed by a robber when he was 5. Rubin, who grew up in Plymouth Meeting, is part-owner of the NBA 76ers and the NHL New Jersey Devils. His Conshohocken holding company owns Fanatics Inc., a fast-growing online seller of NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NHL, and NCAA team gear, with annual sales of $2 billion. In 2011, Rubin sold his previous company, GSI Commerce, to eBay for $2.4 billion. In Easton last April, he was credited with saving more than 500 factory jobs when he bought the Majestic clothing plant and helped it win a sports gear contract.
Rubin said he and Meek Mill have been friendly since 2013, when they met at the NBA All-Star Game. "I was really drawn to his inquisitive personality," Rubin said. "He was asking me so many business-oriented questions. It was obvious he wanted to learn. I liked that from someone in his background." At Fanatics' Super Bowl party in Houston last winter, Rubin and Meek Mill were photographed with 76ers legend Julius Erving and with NFL players. Other attendees included former New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Since 2008, when he was 21, Meek Mill has been on probation for a drug and gun case. The judge overseeing his probation, Brinkley, has alternately scolded and encouraged Meek Mill after his scrapes with the law. He has been under treatment for dependence on the painkiller Percodan.
"He started telling me about these legal issues in the last year or two as we became closer," Rubin said. With his probation hearing approaching, "I went to talk to him about it a few weeks ago as I realized it might be more serious than I thought it should have been." Rubin says it was his idea to testify on Meek Mill's behalf.
Rubin says Meek Mill has met and hung out regularly with his business partners and his family. "He's someone I was comfortable to bring around my business associates, all my partners in the Sixers, many people in the sports business," Rubin said. "He is an upstanding individual that made one mistake when he was a kid. When I've known him I'm sure he has not been involved in what I would consider criminal behavior." With his crossover appeal — Rubin said his 11-year-old daughter, who has met the rapper "50 times," is a fan of his music who cried when he heard he was going to prison — "he's got a chance to take a world that's pretty divided right now and bring people together. He wants to do that."
Brinkley, who is African American and represents a city with an African American plurality, accused the rapper of having "thumbed his nose" at the people's representatives, despite "break after break" on other potential probation violations.
But Rubin said he wasn't convinced her sentence was defending the community from any danger. Rubin notes the judge limited the rapper from touring, which is "the way an artist makes money." Rubin said the judge appeared to him to be "obsessed" with "trying to direct (Meek Mill's) career."
"She should not be overseeing anything related to him," Rubin said. "There are people killing each other every day. Here's a guy with a promising career. And she's trying to ruin his life."